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and your speech is a thunderous noise and my ears are catching a dreadful static --norma jean, high noise, low output
Many years ago, I remember my father once told me a story about a child he knew (neighbor’s kid or something like that). He once heard this child use some swear word or other, and so he gave them a lecture that they should never say such things.
Some time later, when he was working out in the woods behind our house, he found an old board on which someone had scribbled out in crayon all the words that my father had told them never to say. When he asked why they had (obviously) written these words out on the board, the child replied, “Well you told me I wasn’t supposed to say them, so I had to write them down!”
It’s a pretty adorable thing for a kid to do… the key word here of course is “kid.”
This of course brings us to the topic at hand: the ongoing kerfuffle over Julie Burchill’s recent column in the UK Observer. The piece was Burchill’s attempt to defend her friend and fellow columnist Suzanne Moore who had been criticized as a result of a series of events. First Moore made an odd, underhanded reference to Brazilian trans women, followed by comments about trans women “lopping off” their genitalia when she was approached about the issue (in a reasonable, polite manner) on twitter.
It’s ironic that many of Moore’s defenders have stubbornly complained that trans women who reacted to her comments (regarding our “mutilated” bodies and such) are being “politically correct” and over-sensitive, considering that the opening paragraph of Moore’s original article that set this situation off was a complaint about the phrase “Calm down, dear,” spoken by the UK Prime Minister David Cameron to Labour MP Angela Eagle during a Parliamentary session.
Of course, Moore is absolutely correct in her response to Cameron’s words: his comment was clearly patronizing and misogynistic. It’s just bizarre that Moore’s defenders accept that “calm down, dear,” deserves strong public condemnation, but somehow they expect that her talk of mutilated trans bodies and such should pass without a forthright rebuke (to say nothing of Burchill’s later use of slurs “trannies” and “she males” and such).
That having been said, I want to say one thing very clearly: as a trans woman, I absolutely condemn the decision by the Observer to “de-publish” Julie Burchill’s article.
Over the past couple of days, we have seen a bit of an internet temper tantrum coming primarily from some in Britain, centering on some voices in the British commentariat, who are very upset about the fact that trans activists and allies have critiqued an unfortunate line in an article and rather blatantly transphobic comments on twitter by journalist Suzanne Moore (see for example my own previous comment about the issue here). Moore initially made an awkward, de-gendering reference to “Brazilian transsexuals” in her NewStatesman piece, followed by a blatantly transphobic tirade on twitter when gently approached about that odd line in the original article.
Let’s say something off the bat to put all of this in some context. The news media (as well as most every other media, in fact) has a long history of writing about trans people, and trans women in particular, in ways that are extremely sensationalistic, exploitative and ultimately damaging to our lives and livelihoods. These types of media tropes about trans women, habitually dehumanizing and de-gendering us through words, serve to stigmatize our bodies and our lives and therefore promote the discrimination, marginalization and violence that the vast majority of us have experienced quite commonly. I myself have experienced some measure of all of these, however trans women living at the intersections of racial oppression, poverty, and others tend to experience these even more dramatically than someone like myself with white privilege.
For examples of this type of media reporting in the U.S., consider a local TV report covering the murder of Coko Williams in a Detroit neighborhood back in April 2012. Coko had her throat slashed and was shot, yet the news story said little about the loss of human life, instead airing grievances of a neighborhood man who complained of street crime and finding trash on his lawn. When the loss of human life was alluded to towards the end of the interview, Coko’s name was never used and she was inappropriately referred to with male pronouns; further, another resident basically said she had the murder coming because she was trans. Finally, even when a queer website covered the murder, the picture included with the story featured a picture of trash from the first interviewee’s lawn rather than a picture of the woman who had been murdered.
Then there was the New York Times coverage of the passing of Lorena Escalera who died in a fire last May. The NYT story focused on details of her sex life and reported what amounted to rumors about surgery a neighbor believed she might have had. Of course, the NYT (or any reputable news source) would never report such sensationalized details after the passing of a cis woman (or probably anyone else, for that matter).
Meanwhile, as detailed by Trans Media Watch in its submission to the Leveson inquiry, elements of the British Press have shaped exploitative and damaging reporting about trans people almost to a twisted art form; this includes outing trans people regardless of any dangers they might face and publishing exploitative pieces about a trans child whose life and images were put on display in a sensationalized manner that invited public ridicule and abuse.
Then of course there are the endless array of plot lines of movies and shows such as CSI in which trans people, and trans women in particular, are presented as freaks or psychotic individuals, not to mention the sitcoms on which trans women are commonly presented as nothing more than a joke.
It is of course within this wider context of sensationalistic media coverage that most any comments about trans people in the press will be received. Therefore it is in this context that such comments must be viewed, including the line from Suzanne Moore’s original article:
“We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
As myself and many of my fellow trans activists have pointed out over the last few days, this final phrase is odd and alienating. As I pointed out earlier, it represents body-policing, and it’s anti-feminist. Although she has objected strenuously to this characterization of her words, the comments that Moore made on twitter when approached about the issue clearly revealed a much deeper prejudice about trans women and trans women’s bodies.
Note: An earlier version of the title of this article included the word “blind.” Someone pointed out to me that this usage was ableist, so I have changed it. Apologies for my mistake. –Savannah
Earlier this week, British journalist Suzanne Moore wrote a piece in the New Statesman titled “Seeing Red: the Power of Female Anger.” In the overarching theme of the article, Moore has a strong point to make: that women’s anger can be a powerful force for justice against male social dominance and patriarchy’s control over women’s lives and women’s bodies. It critiques soft-bellied mainstream liberal forces, for example, for attempting to cozy up to patriarchy regarding rape allegations against Julian Assange (see, for example, Naomi Wolf’s comments on the issue on Democracy Now).
That having been said, there are other feminist writers who have written similar critiques, and written them better. Moore hints at her position of privileged ignorance when she speaks up for Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman without any mention of Caitlin’s unapologetic racism (given what is revealed below, I also question whether Moore has any business discussing women’s rights in the context of the Arab Spring– personally I would rather hear from an Arab woman who was actually, you know, there).
Things take a more blatant turn for the worse however when Moore makes the following comment:
“The cliché is that female anger is always turned inwards rather than outwards into despair. We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
Note first of all that Moore does not refer to “a Brazilian trans woman” (or even “a Brazilian transsexual woman”), she refers to “a transsexual” in an odd way that hints of a suggested non-gendered individual. This might seem like a subtle point, however I can assure the reader that most trans women (who get this kind of crap all the time) will pick up on it immediately. When we see this kind of thing, we get that it hints at a deeper transphobic mentality. In the present case, this deeper mentality was confirmed rather swiftly after an ally questioned Moore about this on twitter; Moore responded with a pretty epic trans-misogynistic twitter rant (epic, although sadly familiar).
For example, when a cis woman ally questions her on transphobia, Moore responds:
Roseanne Barr, the well-known comedian and actress from the popular 90′s show Roseanne is presently running for President of the United States at the head of the
Peace and Justice Peace and Freedom Party. Roseanne originally ran for the nomination as a member of the Green Party, but eventually lost to the present candidate, Jill Stein.
Late last night, Roseanne wrote a few tweets challenging her former opponent for the Green Party nomination on several issues. One of the issues that came up was Jill Stein’s stance in favor of trans rights (which she discusses a bit in an interview here), which was challenged in a tweet by one @ATagonist (who’s twitter account has since been suspended). She tweeted:
Jill is also in favor of letting men [sic.] into spaces where young girls get changed
followed by a link to a recent local news story out of Olympia, Washington about a trans woman who, like any woman, was using the women’s locker room to change at a local swim facility. Two girls from a high school swim team who also use the pool complained about sharing the facilities with a trans woman, with the result that the swim team has now been asked to use a separate locker room.
A couple of points need to be made about this story right from the start. First of all, this is not a story about sexual harassment or body parts being exposed. No such accusation has even been made in the story. So those who are creating such accusations out of thin air are simply being dishonest in hopes of pushing their agenda. A couple of girls from the swim team were apparently uncomfortable sharing the locker room with a trans woman. Well, now they are using separate facilities. I suppose they are within their rights to use separate facilities if they wish, but then again I suspect that if they had just let it go then these girls and the woman in question would have hardly noticed each other after sharing the facilities once or twice.
Secondly, one of the girls from the swim team has herself commented on the article under McCassidy123, specifically stating she had no problem sharing the locker room with the trans woman. This comment seems pretty key to the conversation, yet nevertheless gets completely ignored by those who are trying to project that someone being “uncomfortable” about sharing the locker room with a trans woman is just some obvious reaction anyone would have. Well, no it’s not.
Now, let’s go ahead and deal with this issue in a calm, rational manner. Here’s a very simple rule about the locker room that pretty much addresses all of these questions: Any woman, whatsoever, cis or trans, who goes into the locker room with the intention of exposing her genitals to young women should absolutely be kicked out of the locker room.
But that isn’t what happened. By all accounts, even by the two girls who didn’t want to be in the locker room with her, she just used the facilities like anyone else and then went on about her business. So you cannot accuse her of doing things that even people who were actually there never accused her.
Well, here is how Roseanne Barr chose to respond to to @ATagonist’s anti-trans woman tweets:
My recent article at Pretty Queer focuses on leadership, politics and support for trans women within the trans community:
I want to preface the comments I’m about to make by acknowledging that our trans community (communitIES is really what I should say) is reeling from some events over the last couple of months. I think many of us are heartbroken, as we should be, over a series of murders of young trans women of color across the U.S. in the last month followed by the recent development that CeCe McDonald had few better legal options than to plead to 2nd degree manslaughter with a recommended 41-month sentence.
To make matters worse, the aftermath of the murders mentioned above recall the usual patterns of police dismissal and blatant disrespect from the media for the victims of racism and trans-misogyny. It is in this context that I think a lot of us feel, in addition to grief and frustration, plenty of doubt and uncertainty about where to head next. The solutions are not always clear, and I think we must avoid the trap of looking for easy answers.
In the aftermath of CeCe’s plea bargain, PrettyQueer’s Tom Léger conducted an interview with Dean Spade, a well-known trans activist and Assistant Professor of Law at a Seattle law school. I’ll note from the outset that criticisms of Dean have been surfacing in recent years; the criticisms primarily focus on his relationship (both professionally speaking and as an activist) with trans women.
For the rest, check out the full article at Pretty Queer here.
This past Wednesday, a likely well-intentioned, but ultimately off-the-mark article appeared in the Boston Phoenix penned by trans activist Gunner Scott. The article is a comment on the status of trans activism and the ongoing struggle to improve the lives of trans people today; it makes a note of certain types of progress that has been made in recent years and comments on future work to be done.
However, the article is problematic in several respects. For example, Scott acknowledges some recent advances that may impact certain trans women’s lives, saying
There have been some … recent successes … like the Girl Scouts’ decision to include transgender girls, and the rule change at the Miss Universe pageant, which enabled the first transgender woman to compete.
What’s weird about this statement is the use of passive voice rather than acknowledging the role that trans women themselves played in bringing these changes about. The fact is that Jenna Talackova, an indigenous woman from British Columbia, could have merely accepted being brought back into the Miss Universe Pageant after initially being kicked out based on her trans status.
But instead, she made the issue larger than herself by demanding a rule change that would allow any trans woman to compete in the pageant in the future. That was not a rule change that simply occurred out of luck, it occurred because a sharp, strong trans woman demanded that it be so in order for her to participate further in the pageant. She stood up, and she won.
(Now there are those who have tried to sideline this accomplishment, after all it’s true that it’s `only’ a beauty pageant. However, if women are the ones who compete in this pageant, Donald Trump’s initial instinct to kick a trans woman out makes clear his message: “She’s not really a woman.” Obviously this is totally unacceptable cissexism and trans-misogyny, no matter what the venue in question may be.)
In fact, the only trans people who are presented as activists in the entire article– Chaz Bono and Gunner Scott himself– are both trans men. Meanwhile, the only trans women who appear in the article are presented as passive victims.
The fact is that in the last decade or so, trans men (particularly white trans men) have come to take the lead roles in trans activism in many ways in many parts of North America. One result of this has been that trans women (particularly trans women of color) have often found themselves struggling to find space within which they could speak for themselves. By presenting himself and Chaz Bono as activists while presenting trans women of color as passive, Gunner Scott has unfortunately fallen into this trap by perpetuating the cycle in which trans women are denied agency, even while their stories are used to promote the “need for trans visibility.”
Indeed, “visibility” is presented as the primary concern, right in the title of Scott’s article. However, the fact of the matter is that this issue is often a primary concern for relatively privileged voices in the trans community; meanwhile, trans women of color often find themselves struggling to achieve invisibility just in order to satisfy basic needs like employment and housing.
However, after reading Scott’s article, I was glad to see that at least two amazing trans women of color took the initiative of writing their own response. Over at Transactivisty, Monica Maldonado criticizes Scott for his odd claim that
Some reporters are helping to show the humanity of those lost by including stories from friends and family about how loved and cherished [trans women] were, and how much they will be missed. This type of reporting is challenging the idea that transgender women are not valued.
This statement is almost bizarre given the sensationalizing, trans-misogynistic coverage appearing right in the New York Times of a trans woman who recently died in a fire. I strongly recommend that everyone check out Monica’s piece here for more in-depth analysis and further comments on Scott’s problematic presentation of the status of trans activism.
Another trans woman of color writer, Erica, also gives a quite different take on the status of trans activism and a critique of Scott’s article. Erica comments on the difficulties finding support that many trans women experience even within the trans community, as well as the fact that by generally having a very rigid framing of what counts as an `acceptable’ trans history or identity, many trans people are actually writing off those who don’t fit a certain narrative that largely internalizes both the trans-misogyny and racism that targets the most vulnerable among us.
Ultimately, Erica provides two specific recommendations to bring the community forward as a whole, and I strongly recommend that you check them out for yourself here.